Archive of January 5, 2011

Phoenix hospital's break with bishop a troubling sign, health care experts say

CNA STAFF, Jan 5, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - An Arizona hospital's decision to reject the moral authority of the Bishop of Phoenix raises troubling questions about the future of Catholic health care, according to two experts in the field.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted revoked the Catholic status of St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Dec. 21. The move came after several months of discussion and negotiation over an abortion that took place there in 2009.

The hospital and its parent company, Catholic Health Care West, continue to maintain that the abortion was medically necessary. Bishop Olmsted had insisted that the hospital acknowledge that Catholic teaching never permits direct abortion as form of medical treatment, but the hospital refused. 

“The bishop tried to bring them back,” explained John Brehany, executive director of the Catholic Medical Association. He commended Bishop Olmsted for seeking to apply “a clear standard” of “what counts as Catholic identity, Catholic ethics, and Catholic medicine.”

But, he explained, Catholic hospitals –like Catholic schools and universities– often face pressure to make compromises in areas where the broader public may not understand or accept the Church's moral authority.

Bishop Olmsted's investigation found that St. Joseph's Hospital and its parent company were involved in a pattern of behavior that violated Catholic ethical directives for health care. These activities included creating and managing a government program that offers birth control, sterilization procedures, and abortion.
Brehany believes that these kinds of involvements reflect a larger crisis of identity and purpose in Catholic health care. Many providers, he said, have “grown apart” from the main body of the Church, and lost a sense of what their religious identity once meant.

He compared the situation between the bishop and St. Joseph's to a child who decides to break off contact with his parents. “Both the hospital and the Catholic Healthcare West system effectively said, 'We don't want you in our life'.”

But in describing the larger implications of the hospital's break from Church authority, Brehany employed a more striking metaphor.

“Jesus said, 'I am the vine, and you are the branches,'” he noted. This worldview had historically been the basis for an “organic structure” connecting institutions like schools and hospitals with parishes, local bishops, and the universal Church.

However, Brehany noted that in recent years, some of these “branches” have lost their connection with the “vine” from which they had grown. “That has tremendous implications,” he said, “because their Catholic faith and identity ought to be ultimate.”

This identity, he suggested, cannot simply function as a general source of inspiration for caregivers, since it also demands a complete commitment to the Church's teachings and authority.

While the St. Joseph's abortion case drew national attention, it was not the only recent instance of a Catholic hospital parting ways with Church authority. In Feb. 2010, Bishop Robert F. Vasa revoked the Catholic status of St. Charles Medical Center in the Diocese of Baker, Oregon, because of its insistence on performing sterilizations – up to 250 of them per year, he discovered.

Bishop Vasa publicly warned at the time that some Catholic hospitals, while claiming to abide by Catholic ethical guidelines, “are not being as transparent with their bishops as they should be.”

He also cautioned at the time that “if a bishop trustingly accepts that Catholic hospitals in his jurisdiction are following the (ethical) directives in accord with his proper interpretation of those directives, he may be surprised to learn this may not be the case.”

During the fall of 2008, Bishop Alvaro Corrada of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas acknowledged that two hospitals in his diocese had performed “a large number” of sterilizations, despite their claim to be “in compliance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services.”

Bishop Corrada admonished both hospitals for their “serious misinterpretation” of those directives, and reached agreements with the hospitals to ensure their compliance in the future. However, the bishop also admitted his own “failure to provide adequate oversight of the Catholic Hospitals” in the Diocese of Tyler.

Leonard J. Nelson, a legal scholar and author of the book “Diagnosis Critical: The Urgent Threats Confronting Catholic Healthcare,” said Church-affiliated hospitals in some parts of the U.S. had become accustomed to minimal oversight, and often interpreted Catholic health care guidelines very differently from their local bishops.

Professor Nelson asserted that cases of sterilization at Catholic hospitals, or even abortions deemed “medically necessary,” are not necessarily rare. 

“A lot of times, when I suspect this has happened, the bishops don't know about it. If (hospitals) are inclined to do those kinds of 'therapeutic' abortions, they're probably not going to tell the bishop.”

Nelson's allegations, if correct, could explain the reaction to the Phoenix case by the Catholic Health Association– a trade group that made headlines last year by strongly lobbying for a health care overhaul opposed by the U.S. bishops.

Sr. Carol Keehan, President and CEO of the trade group, issued a strong defense of the Phoenix hospital's decision to perform the abortion, and said the facility and its parent company were “valued members of the Catholic Health Association.”

Sr. Keehan's response “really stakes out some new territory,” Nelson observed.

Brehany, too, was struck by the tenor of Sr. Keehan's statement. It could indicate, he suggested, that the health association might be trying to position itself as a rival authority or “competing magisterium” to the U.S. bishops on issues of health care ethics.

Nelson and Brehany noted that the bishops may not have many practical options for calling the Catholic Health Association or its individual members to accountability. They could most likely continue to use the “Catholic” label, no matter what Church authorities might determine, they said.

Following Bishop Olmsted's allegations against Catholic Healthcare West, Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco –where the company has its headquarters– announced on Dec. 23 that he was seeking to “initiate a dialogue” with the company accused of cooperating with the government to provide birth control, sterilization, and abortion.

Bishop Olmsted noted on Dec. 21 that Catholic Healthcare West and St. Joseph's Hospital “have made more than a hundred million dollars every year from this partnership with the government.” St. Joseph Hospital's parent company is the eighth-largest healthcare company in the U.S.

A spokesman for Archbishop Niederauer indicated to CNA that no additional information about the purpose or timetable for the discussions with Catholic Healthcare West would be provided at this time.

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Former Anglican bishops studying to become Catholic priests

London, England, Jan 5, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Three former Anglican bishops are busily preparing to be ordained as Catholic priests on Jan. 15, following their reception into the Church at a Mass held in London's Westminster Cathedral on New Year’s Day. 

CNA caught up with one of the three, Bishop John Broadhurst on Jan. 5 following a full day of classes on the Church’s canon law.

“We've been virtually through the whole lot," he chuckled.

He began the classes last year and said he will continue with them even after his ordination.

Bishop Broadhurst, along with Bishops Andrew Burnham and Keith Newton resigned their Anglican ministries on Dec. 31, 2010. Along with members of their families and three Anglican religious sisters, the three entered the Church the following day. 

Bishop Broadhurst praised the "unprecedented" gesture of Pope Benedict XVI that has made his conversion to Rome possible.

In Nov. 2009, the Pope issued the invitation in an apostolic constitution, "Anglicanorum Coetibus.” The document proposed that former Anglicans could enter into “full communion” with the Church as members of specially-tailored jurisdictions, or “personal ordinariates.”

"It's a completely new way of dealing with problems of people who are outside the Catholic Church and want reconciliation," Bishop Broadhurst said.

Although the ordinariate has now been established for England and Wales, as yet no bishop has been appointed to oversee it.

"We've got to get it up and running, it's a pretty momentous task to be honest with you,” Bishop Broadhurst said.

He estimated that the establishment of the ordinariate will lead to many new converts.

He estimated that in 1994 there were about 500 former Anglican priests who sought communion with the Catholic Church. He predicted "about 50" will come over initially, throughout the coming year. 

"A lot of other people are interested," he said.

The bishops will be ordained Catholic deacons on Jan.13 and priests on Jan. 15, according to a statement issued by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. Additionally, two other retired ex-Anglican bishops who also resigned at the conclusion of 2010, Edwin Barnes and David Silk, will also be ordained "in due course."

Those ordained as priests will continue to receive Catholic formation throughout the coming year, according to plans developed by the bishops' conference and the Vatican.

The fact that the Vatican is allowing ongoing formation, he said, is "one of the things that is very, very brave" about the plans for the ordinariate.

According to Broadhurst, the incoming Anglicans are well versed in Catholic doctrine and there is little threat of any surprises that might make them "turn back."

“I think the assumption you mustn't make is that Anglicans from most traditions are unfamiliar with the teaching of the Catholic Church on any major items. I mean, there's not likely to be any problems with faith. You know, I can't see that.”

He pointed to two historic points of contention between the two communions — the Church’s dogmas concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary’s “Immaculate Conception” and “Assumption.”

"We wouldn't be where we were if we didn't accept those and I think that is as simple as it is," he said.

He said he and his fellow Anglican pioneers are approaching their new lives as Catholics with "excitement and trepidation."

He looks forward to the day when he is joined by many others. "The ordinariate at the moment," he said, "is a bit top heavy. There are three ex-bishops, three nuns and two women, one of whom is my wife."


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Obama administration drops 'death panel' provision after controversy

Washington D.C., Jan 5, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

After enacting a Medicare regulation on Jan. 1 that would reimburse doctors for holding end-of-life planning consults with patients, the Obama administration swiftly reversed the move just three days later, after intense controversy swirled around the issue.

Although critics of the regulation argued that it was a push towards assisted suicide or advising elderly patients to forgo costly life-sustaining treatments, some Catholic experts held that end-of-life planning could instead be viewed as pro-life and consistent with Church teaching.

Uproar over the regulation began when the New York Times reported on Dec. 25 that the Obama administration quietly endorsed a policy that would reimburse doctors who give consultations to patients on end-of-life care as part of an annual wellness examination created by the new healthcare reform law. Though similar language was stripped from the final Senate health care bill which passed last March, the administration worked to achieve the same goal on Jan. 1 through a Medicare regulation. The Times observed that regulation writing could be an effective process for the administration to enact health care policies despite increasing Republican opposition in Congress.

Under the new regulation, Medicare would have covered “voluntary advance care planning,” to discuss end-of-life treatment, as part of an annual visit. During the visit, doctors would have provided information to patients on how to prepare an “advance directive” which would detail how aggressively they wish to be treated if they are incapacitated to make their own decisions in the future. The regulation was published in the Federal Register last November and was issued by Dr. Donald M. Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

But in an interesting twist, the Obama administration reversed its decision, just three days after the regulation was enacted on Jan. 1, according to the New York Times. Administration officials told the newspaper that the reason behind the decision was that the public did not have a chance to weigh in on the regulation.

“We realize that this should have been included in the proposed rule, so more people could have commented on it specifically,” an unnamed administration official said.

End-of-life planning provisions have been staunchly opposed by political conservatives since the drafting of the health care legislation in 2009.

Republican figures, such as 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and current House Majority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) led the opposition, with Palin coining the term “Obama's death panels” and Rep. Boehner warning against what he considered to be a step towards “government-encouraged euthanasia.”

Elizabeth Price Foley, a professor of law at Florida International University who is politically unaffiliated, offered a more nuanced view in remarks to CNA on Jan. 4.

Although Foley said the term end-of-life planning “sounds innocuous enough,” she feared that elderly patients could be pressured into making decisions they don't understand. Foley also said that advanced directives in some states are slanted towards having patients refuse life-sustaining treatments and that redrafting one's own directive involves hiring an attorney, which can be costly and time consuming.

“If we coerce seniors into executing advanced directives we may intentionally or unintentionally coerce some of them into signing documents in which they express a desire to decline life-sustaining care when that's not really what they want,” Foley said. 

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference, said he shared concerns with conservatives over the issue but told CNA Jan. 4 that he didn't believe the Medicare regulation posed an “assisted suicide problem.”

“There is a good deal of polarization and exaggeration on many issues relating to health care reform; that's not confined to one party,” Doerflinger said. “I do think the 'death panels' charge spreads more heat than light.” 

Doerflinger said the reportedly defunct Medicare regulation didn't include a “panel” of any sort – “only a doctor and a patient who agree to talk about what treatments the patient may want in the future.” 

He noted Foley's concerns about elderly patients signing advance directives without proper knowledge, but said “I don't think that's sufficient reason for opposition in principle to offering people the opportunity to sign a form they do feel comfortable with.”

“For many patients the alternative to this – for example, expressing no wishes and so being left entirely to the mercy of insurers and medical personnel who have their own 'bottom line' to worry about –  may be worse.”

He went on to say that advance directives can be utilized in accord with Church teachings, noting that in “cases where the patient may become unconscious or unable to communicate, it can be helpful for that patient to put in writing what his or her general preferences are.”

Doerflinger stressed caution when approaching the issue, however, saying that "Catholic teaching urges patients to accept life-sustaining treatment whose benefits outweigh the burdens, but there is much room for prudential decisionmaking within that principle."

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, who serves as director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, agreed that caution is necessary, saying that patients “should never be offered immoral choices, such as euthanasia or assisted suicide, and end of life planning sessions should never become a fulcrum or pressure point to coerce individuals towards unethical treatment options.”

“All patient care and end of life planning must be patient-centered, seeking to assure that reasonable treatments options are available and utilized, while unreasonable or unduly burdensome treatment options are avoided,” he said.

“Generally speaking, end of life discussions are very important and need to be encouraged, but encouraged in the right way,” he added.

Fr. Pacholczyk said that, regrettably, many families never talk about these issues “until they are forced into them by urgent, unavoidable circumstances.”

“Designating a health care proxy, someone who loves us and who we trust, and who can make decisions for us if we become incapacitated, is an important step that every person should take to assist in proper management of end of life situations,” Fr. Pacholczyk said.

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Over 2,000 college students spread Gospel in Chile

Santiago, Chile, Jan 5, 2011 (CNA) - More than 2,000 young people from 55 universities in Chile are bringing Christ to Chileans in January.

The college students are participating in a national mission Jan. 3-13 with the theme, “United at your table, Lord, let us enliven the Church in Chile.”

The young Chileans attended a Jan. 3 Mass of commissioning celebrated by Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, the outgoing Archbishop of Santiago, at the Marian Shrine of Maipu.

Each morning, the young people go door-to-door visiting families and sharing the Gospel, explain organizers of the mission.  In the afternoon, the students participate in the “social mission” by visiting hospitals, prisons, orphanages and retirement homes. 

The young people also participate in workshops for children, teens and adults in the “family mission.”

The national mission will also include processions, festivals and theatrical works, in which the entire community will participate.

The national mission first began in 2004 at the Pontifical Catholic University in Santiago. Each year it provides young people from across the country the opportunity to “spread the message of Christ” in the service of the Church.

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Christmas tells us Jesus is still present on earth, Pope says

Vatican City, Jan 5, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The annual celebration of Christmas not only recalls Christ’s birth, it celebrates his continue presence in the world and in history, Pope Benedict XVI said. The Pope hosted his first general audience of the new year, Jan. 5, sheltered from the cold of Rome in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall.

In his message to a crowd of thousands, many of whom are still on vacation from work and school, he focused on the meaning of the Christmas liturgies.

Christmas continues to fascinate people, he said, "because everyone in one way or another is intuitively aware that the birth of Jesus concerns man's most profound aspirations and hopes."

The world is again renewed in the light of Christ in a "mysterious, yet real way" during Christmas. And, "each (liturgical) celebration is the real presence of the mystery of Christ and a prolongation of the history of salvation," he said.

By celebrating Christ's birth, the mysteries of the salvation he brings are brought to the present. They become "real ... effective for us today" through the sacraments, he explained.

The Pope pointed out the connection between Christ's birth and his later passion, death and resurrection. Christmas represents the beginning of the mystery that reaches its culmination at Easter, he explained.

"In Jesus, the Word Incarnate, our salvation is accomplished in the flesh. Jesus’ humbling of himself, beginning with his conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, will find its fullest expression in the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection."

In order to understand that Christmas is "not just a memory, but a presence ... it is important to live the Christmas period intensely, as the Church presents it," said Pope Benedict.

"The celebration of Christmas does not only present us with examples to imitate, such as the humility and poverty of the Lord, His benevolence and love for mankind; rather it is an invitation to let oneself be transformed totally by the One Who entered our flesh.

“The aim of God becoming manifest was that we might participate in divine life, and that the mystery of His incarnation might be realized in us. This mystery is the fulfillment of man's vocation,” he concluded.

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Cardinal Pell corrects politicians who claim to be Catholic but vote differently

Sydney, Australia, Jan 5, 2011 (CNA) - As the country faces intense legislative debate this upcoming year over same-sex “marriage” and euthanasia, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney blasted politicians who claim a Catholic identity, yet consistently defy Church teachings on major issues.

In a Jan. 4 interview with the Sunday Herald Sun, Cardinal Pell gave a sharp rebuke to Australian members of parliament who "fly under the Christian or Captain Catholic flag" but "blithely disregard Christian perspectives" in their actions.

"If a person says, 'Look, I'm not a Christian, I've a different set of perspectives,' I disagree but I understand," he said. "If a person says to me, 'Look, I'm nominally a Christian but it sits lightly with me,' I understand that.”

"But it's incongruous for somebody to be a Captain Catholic one minute, saying they're as good a Catholic as the Pope, then regularly voting against the established Christian traditions."

Cardinal Pell called out politicians who endorse secular stances on issues while insisting that they're Catholics, saying, “if you're espousing something that's not a Christian position, don't claim Christian backing for that."

The Catholic Church “doesn't teach the primacy of conscience,” he said, explaining that a person's conscience doesn't trump Church teaching. “You know if somebody said apartheid was all right, nobody would say, 'Yes you can say that because of the primacy of conscience.'"

"To the extent that on a significant number of issues you depart from Christian teachings you know it's incongruous to be billing yourself as a champion of Christian rights,” he said.

"I'm not telling people how to vote," he underscored during the interview. "I'm telling people how I think they should vote. I'm an Australian citizen and I have as much right to do that as any other citizen."

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John Paul II beatification could be possible in 2011

Rome, Italy, Jan 5, 2011 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II could be beatified in 2011, Vatican expert Andrea Tornielli is reporting.

In the Jan. 4 edition of the Italian newspaper Il Giornale, he reports that medical advisers of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints have ruled favorably on a miracle attributed to John Paul II’s intercession. The documentation has also passed the scrutiny of theologians.

The case involves the healing of a French religious sister from Parkinson’s disease. Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease in 2001. Her order prayed to John Paul II after his death for help. After writing the Pope’s name on a piece of paper one night in June 2005, she reportedly awoke the next morning cured and was able to resume her work as a maternity nurse.

Vatican expert John Allen Jr., writing in the National Catholic Reporter, said that media reports have implied that the French sister had become ill again and at least one physician questioned her original diagnosis. The outcome of the medical consultants’ examination suggests that those doubts have been resolved.

The cause for beatification will now advance to the bishops heading the congregation. They will vote on the matter in several weeks.

In theory, it is possible that Pope John Paul II could be beatified on April 2, 2011, the sixth anniversary of his death. Other possible dates are the late pontiff’s birthday, May 18, or the Oct. 16 anniversary of his 1978 election to the papacy.

A beatification Mass would draw huge crowds and would require significant preparation. This makes a later date more likely.

Pope John Paul II was declared “venerable” in December 2009. If he is beatified, another recognized miracle would be required to declare him a saint.

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Cuba hanging between unbridled capitalism and socialist totalitarianism, dissident warns

Havana, Cuba, Jan 5, 2011 (CNA) - The coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement is renewing his demand that the Cuban government allow the country to transition to democracy peacefully.

Oswaldo Paya warned in a Jan. 1 message that Cuba will otherwise be left hanging between unbridled capitalism and socialist totalitarianism.

Paya’s comments came as the Cuban government announced 500,000 government workers will be laid off in the upcoming year. “The government justifies the layoffs of thousands of workers claiming they are not suitable for the job,” Paya stated. “And our leaders? Have they been suitable? Now they say they did not know how to make socialism work, and yet for half a century they made decisions in the name of the people.”

Data obtained by the EFE news agency clarified that some 146,000 jobs will be eliminated in 2011, and 351,000 government employees will be transitioned into the public sector as part of the economic reforms announced by the Cuban government.

Paya warned against the imposition of “the worst of unbridled capitalism combined with socialist totalitarianism: exploitation, unemployment, abusive prices, poverty for the majority and privileges for the powerful” and the lack of freedom. “Enough of the crucifixion of the Cuban people between two thieves: capitalism and socialism,” he said.

The dissident leader noted that the policies the government is putting forth today “will not solve the problem, because the problem is precisely the Socialist regime.”

He encouraged Cubans at home and abroad to discover their “spiritual capacity to break free” of hatred of every kind.

Paya also demanded that all political prisoners in the country be released and that the Castro government initiate the changes desired by the people. He listed the changes as, “freedom of expression, access to the media for all, the legal creation of civic organizations and political parties, and new election laws” that will guarantee free and democratic elections.

“We will establish a new nation for all Cubans without exception, keeping what is good and humane of what we Cubans have built during all these years and of what we have inherited from the history of Cuba.  But now is the time for change, and change means freedom, rights, reconciliation and democracy,” Paya said.

On Tuesday the Cuban government began laying off workers in the sugar, agriculture, construction, health and tourism industries, as part of a reorganization of the government workforce.

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